Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Some of them are thinking

First, the painfully sad news: the young man who wrote the letter below died in last night's Amtrak derailment.

The somewhat better news: he had a wonderful last semester in college (at the Naval Academy), thinking deeply about the material in at least one of his courses, and the issues it raised.  In a week when one elite college professor has gotten a lot of attention for claiming, in the New York Times, that students just don't do that anymore*, it's nice to have proof that some of them do (and I'm sure Mr. Zemser was not the only one, though that in no way diminishes the loss -- for his family, or for the nation he aspired to serve). 

Dearest Uncle,
You were one of the first people I spoke to earlier in the year when I thought about switching majors. At the time, I was an engineering major taking painfully boring, cookie cutter PowerPoint suffocated courses like Intro to Systems Engineering and Statics. I would ask myself every single day as I constantly checked my watch, impatiently waiting for class to end, “What am I doing with this crap?” I hated it. Unlike the majority of the people at the Academy, however, you supported my eventual major change to English, and with it came awesome courses like HE222, The Bible and Literature; classes that actually promoted thought and personal reflection, classes that rekindled my passion for learning. And boy, has this course lived up to its cool pre-registration name in January.
rest here.

Edited to add: while we often complain about Deans and holders of Ed degrees here, it sounds like  we also lost a pretty impressive member of both those groups.

*Zemser doesn't mention spending time outside the classroom with his professor -- the main measure of "engagement" that Bauerlein seems to be using. I'm not sure how much time midshipmen have for such activities.   But he does seem to have gotten a lot out of in-class discussion, and of the readings Prof. O'Brien assigned. Interestingly, he also cites an earlier football-team Bible study as an experience that contributed to his interest in and engagement with the class (even though he was Jewish, and the Bible Study was clearly Christian).  Intellectual development is a complex process, not limited to the classroom, and intellectual curiosity, and openness to a variety of experiences, clearly help.

And yes, I'll probably have something to say about Bauerlein, and the responses to his column, once I get my grades in, if there's anything left to say at that point. But don't let that stop anyone else from starting off the conversation.  In the meantime, I saw this, and just had to share.  It pairs nicely with the Yaro post immediately below, I think (or, really, any Yaro post; I doubt Yaro and Mr. Zemser ever met, but I bet they would have gotten along famously). 


  1. Yes, but this student was a Naval Academy Midshipman. Those are hardly typical students. But it is true that every now and then, you do get a victory. How sad it ended so soon! My condolences to his loved ones.